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Need to Know: Five players who must step up for the Redskins to beat the Steelers

Need to Know: Five players who must step up for the Redskins to beat the Steelers

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, September 11, one day before the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Walkthrough at Redskins Park, no media availability

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 245 days ago. It will be one day until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 7; Browns @ Redskins 21; Redskins @ Ravens 28

Five Redskins who will need to step up to beat the Steelers

QB Kirk Cousins—The quick scouting report on the Steelers is that they have a shaky secondary but a fierce pass rush (third in the NFL in sacks in 2015). Last year Cousins was very good when he was not under pressure but his efficiency dropped when the pass rush started to get to him (35th among 37 QBs with at least 200 pass plays per Football Outsiders). He will need to continue to be efficient when he has time to throw but he inevitably will find himself with defenders in his face from time to time. Cousins will need to step up and make some plays while dealing with the rush.

RB Matt Jones—He has been groomed to be the lead dog at running back all offseason. But his injury opened the door for undrafted rookie Robert Kelley to make a case that he is a viable alternative. If Jones wants to establish himself as starting NFL running back it starts on Monday with him perhaps grinding through some pain to deliver a solid performance.

G Brandon Scherff—If the Redskins are going to run the ball at all—and they likely will have to do it some if they are going to win—they will have to control Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. He can be a one-man wrecking crew on either outside or inside runs. The favored alignment for him is in a three technique on the left side, which puts him over the outside shoulder of Scherff. The No. 5 pick in last year’s draft will need to take another step towards showing he was worth that selection by keeping Tuitt under control.

CB Bashaud Breeland—Breeland likely will spend some of the night on Antonio Brown as the coaches have said that Josh Norman will not trail the NFL’s best receiver wherever he lines up. But the real pressure on Breeland will come when he is guarding the Steelers’ “other” receiver. With Markus Wheat declared out that will be Sammie Coates with Darrius Heyward-Bey stepping in on occasion. There would be few worse scenarios than the Redskins keeping Brown under control but losing because  Coates has a big day.

S DeAngelo Hall—He played some safety towards the end of last year but the coaches didn’t put too much on him because of his mid-season conversion. At this point safety has been his position all through the offseason program and training camp so he gets the full package. If he is going to prolong his career at safety he needs to get off to a good start tonight. Hall needs to be assignment perfect and serve as a last line of defense to prevent Big Ben from racking up quick scores to Brown, Coates, or the speedy Hayward-Bey.

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

For years, the Redskins struggle with their home field as the fall turns to winter. It's been happening so long it's become an expected passing of the seasons, like the transition from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Christmas lights dotting people's front yards. 

Well, on Thanksgiving night, the turf at FedEx Field again showed how bad it can be. On a second half interception returned for a New York Giants touchdown, replay showed that Kirk Cousins' foot got stuck on the dirt, and it played a role in his sailing a ball to the sideline. The bad turf was not the only reason for the interception, but it was definitely a reason. 

Beyond the pick, the field was just ugly. Twitter blew up making fun of the Redskins home grass, and the national broadcast showed just how unsightly the long brown patch between the hash marks looked. 

On Friday, the normally diplomatic Cousins opened up about the grass.

"It probably doesn't look like a professional NFL field should," the quarterback said on 106.7 the Fan (full audio here). "If you think the field is rough now on Thanksgiving, we've got two more home games in mid-to-late December. That's probably going to be a bigger challenge."

Asked about the field's impact on the interception on Thursday night, Cousins ignored it. But plenty of other players have suggested the field is a known problem in the second half, and something they just must deal with. 

"I don't know why it is that way or what causes it," Cousins said. "I've kind of learned to accept it and understand it's part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason."

[h/t @BenStandig for the Cousins quotes]

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When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

At halftime of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, Samaje Perine had three yards rushing and his team had three points. Washington had racked up all of 113 yards.

Coincidence? Not entirely. Although the Redskins are primarily a passing team they need to run the ball to pass effectively.

“We had to get the running game going,” said Jay Gruden after the game.

In the second half, Perine and the offense did get it going. Perine ran for 97 yards and Redskins put up 210 yards and 17 points. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Redskins didn’t make any halftime adjustments to get the ground game in gear.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Perine. “We knew they were going to come out fired up, they just came off a big win. We just had to stay the course and then things started going our way.”

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS OF THE WIN

Perine was more steady than spectacular. His longest run was 16 yards. He came out of the locker room and ran for six and 10 yards on his first two carries. Later in the third quarter the Redskins were backed up at their own 10. Perine ran four straight plays for 39 yards and the Redskins were near midfield.

Although they didn’t score on that drive they did change field position. That was part of the Redskins’ strategy playing with an injury-depleted offense.

“If you had to punt in a game like this and play field position, it’s not the end of the world because our defense was playing so good,” said Gruden.

Not only did the running game flip the field, it flipped the time of possession. In the first half, the Giants had the ball for 17:40 compared to 12:20 for the Redskins.

“We had to get on the field and control some of the clock,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “We had to give our defense a rest. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed and we were able to move the chains.”

Moses wasn’t the only one enjoying seeing Perine pile up some yards.

“As a defensive player, you want to see that,” said safety D.J. Swearinger. “We say, keep running it. Keep running him. Let him keep getting those carries, put a dent in the defense. It was a good sight to see.”

RELATED: FIVE KEY MOMENTS IN RESKINS VS GIANTS

Swearinger got to watch a lot of Perine. The Redskins piled up 22:17 in possession in the second half, while Swearinger and his defensive mates had to defend for just 7:43.

Last night was the second time in four days that Perine has rushed for 100 yards or more; he had 117 in New Orleans on Sunday. No Redskin has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games since Alfred Morris did it in November of 2013.

He will have a chance to extend that streak to three on Thursday against the Cowboys, who are ranked 17th in rushing defense. That would put him in some elite company in Redskins history, including Larry Brown (twice) and Stephen Davis.  A steak of three straight 100-yard games was last done by Morris in 2012.

It may be a little early to look forward, but the Redskins record is five straight 100-yard games, held by Clinton Portis (twice) and Ladell Betts.  

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.